Friday, November 30, 2012
Year in review: TEs offer steady play
By Austin Ward
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A position-by-position look at a perfect season for Ohio State, continuing today by rewinding to look at the physical blockers who doubled as extra weapons in the passing game for the high-powered spread attack.
Buckeyes sophomore tight end Jeff Heuerman had eight catches for 94 yards and one touchdown.
Most valuable player: The conversion of the projected starter at the position left more work for the two guys left over at tight end, and both of them were able to step up and make a mark. The receiving statistics are essentially a dead heat, and each did some notable work to help the rushing attack get rolling -- but the slight edge goes to Jeff Heuerman over Nick Vannett. Heuerman drew some of the highest praise of the season when coach Urban Meyer identified him as one of the best blockers he's ever had at tight end, and while Vannett's emergence was just as critical, it's the sophomore who gets the nod this season.
By the numbers: Throwing to the big targets wasn't exactly a staple of the passing game, though maybe it could become a more regular feature given the success the Buckeyes had with either tight end. Or perhaps it was the element of surprise that made them so effective. Either way, the 17 combined catches for Vannett and Heuerman averaged nearly 13 yards per completion -- and both flashed the ability to make something big happen down the field by posting plays of 32 yards or longer.
Best moment: Almost an afterthought through five games, the duo both had opportunities to prove they belonged in the game plan in a high-profile showdown against Nebraska. Neither disappointed in the blowout win, sparking the offense with three combined catches for 85 yards and a touchdown that seemingly came out of nowhere to add one more element of danger for future opponents to prepare for down the stretch.
Postseason answer: The senior's official move to wide receiver during training camp generated a lot of optimism for the Buckeyes about the various ways Stoneburner could be used, shifting him around the formation, getting ideal matchups on the perimeter or moving him back inside as a blocker. That personnel change also hinted that Ohio State had enough faith in the two guys behind him to get the job done and let Stoneburner go elsewhere. It ultimately didn't generate a flood of individual production for any of the three Buckeyes, though it obviously didn't hurt an offense that collectively bullied its way to the highest-scoring season in the Big Ten.
Looking ahead: Stoneburner will be moving on after his last season with the program, though the Buckeyes were evidently prepared to deal with that reality back in August. Heuerman will only be a junior next fall, and Vannett still has three years ahead of him at Ohio State -- and based on the progress they've already made in becoming physical blockers and offering a consistent set of hands when needed, it's safe to assume tight end won't be a position Meyer has to worry about for a while.